Impressions: The Last Story

It’s been a long time coming, but I finally got my mitts on Hironobu Sakaguchi’s “The Last Story.”  While it’s been released in Japan for the better part of 2 years, and in Europe for the past six months, it wasn’t until Xseed Games agreed to publish the game that it was released in North America.  I’ve consistently enjoyed Sakaguchi’s games over the past 10 or so years, so I was eager to see what he had done this time around; enough to take the Operation Rainfall approach of pre-ordering/purchasing Xenoblade Chronicles to try and convince Nintendo to publish The Last Story in NA.  I suppose the strategy worked well enough, as Xseed did pick up the game and so I’ve sat on my pre-order for it since April.  Much to my dismay, I checked out Destructoid’s review of the game, which was less than favorable, but I kept my pre-order because of the otherwise positive reviews that it has garnered.

Now that I’ve been able to spend four hours in the game, I think I’ve seen enough to start forming my own opinion on it.  The first thing to strike me was that this is more along the lines of what I wanted from Final Fantasy XIII after it’s debut trailer at E3 2006.  You are part of a party of characters who, other than the protagonist, are controlled by the game.  The Last Story allows you to move about the field at will, doing lots of flashy dives and flips over characters, and otherwise chopping up targets with swords large enough to be the envy of Pyramid Head.  The game slowly introduces more complex verbs that actually affect the flow of battle, such as the gathering ability which brings all enemy targets to attack Zael, the protagonist. This is useful to take the heat off of your party’s mages who require long, uninterrupted, casting times.  Zael can also enter a first person mode to fire his crossbow, but also to identify advantages in the environment.  You continue to gain useful individual abilities, but eventually you are given the option of issuing direct commands to other party members.  This isn’t to change the game to become a real-time strategy experience, but to allow you to exploit the strengths of other party members at key times to gain an advantage in battle.  While the game follows many jRPG patterns outside of battles (levels, equipment, town exploration, etc.) the battle system is an interesting take on jRPG combat.  I haven’t seen enough of the game yet to gauge whether this continues to build in an satisfying way, or devolves into a chaotic mess.

Outside of combat, the game reminds me in some ways of Chrono Cross.  Both are aesthetically pleasing games which encourage players to just plunk themselves down and enjoy the world around them.  The primary caveat to The Last Story’s presentation would be the character outfits, where men wearing hot pants and chaps aren’t given a second look in a world that takes much inspiration from medieval Europe and Japan.  The story definitely makes use of jRPG tropes (the protagonist is an orphan whose parents died in a war, whose town was destroyed, and whose love interest is a princess) and I would have thought that would be enough to turn me off to the game, but then again I am playing a game and not reading a book, so it can be easier to overlook some of this if you’re enjoying the game itself.  The Last Story is a game that’s simultaneously novel and familiar in such a way that I don’t really mind sitting down in front of the TV to play a jRPG again.  I’m not sure how or if this translates to a more mainstream appeal, but for those out there who are still looking for jRPGs, I don’t think this will disappoint you.

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